Lincoln and the Great Depression
As Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday is celebrated everywhere from Illinois to Australia, Barry Schwartz’s Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era takes on a special resonance.
Charting the rise and fall of Lincoln’s status as an unquestioned American hero, Schwartz explains how Americans have looked at Lincoln differently as our circumstances and attitudes have shifted. Schwartz starts his story at the beginning of the Great Depression, because “if every era sees itself in Abraham Lincoln and reveals itself in what it says about him, the Lincoln of the Depression and World War II was unique. This Lincoln was the last of its kind, taking American history’s heroic genre as far as it would ever go. He must be the benchmark against which imaginations of subsequent Lincolns are gauged.”
As we live through a period that many people have compared to the Depression under a president who identifies with and often speaks of Lincoln, it’s particularly interesting to consider, in light of Schwartz’s insight, what our era is saying about itself right now by way of what we say about the 16th president.
And it’s hard to imagine that we’ll ever say more than what we’ve collectively said today—at least until 2109.